"Nothing. It's just.... small. It's good, though. We might be able to do something with it. I guess I'm not really a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree type person."
"Is that really a thing? Is there a union for Charlie Brown Tree people?" I asked and Dennis laughed.
"It's cute, actually. It'll be easier to set up anyway." He said and went to placing the tree in the stand.
We talked as we decorated the sad, little, wonderful tree and it was nice and comfortable but it was all very friendly. I tried very hard to shake the feeling that I would rather be decorating the tree with Charlie but it persisted. After the last decoration that we could fit on the tree was hung, we sat down and ate in it's light.
"Oh my God, I haven't heard this song in years!" I said, as Christmas Rapping by the Waitresses started playing.
"It's a classic. How could you not have heard this song? They play it every year."
"It's just one of those things. Like every year I try to catch March of the Wooden Soldiers on t.v. but I always miss it."
"My favorite Christmas movie is Mixed Nuts. It's new, but it's hysterical."
"I've never seen it. I'll have to check it out." I said, as my cell phone started ringing.
I picked up and had a short conversation by the end of which I almost threw my phone out the window.
"Everything o.k.?" Dennis asked.
"No. Someone went home sick. I have to go in and cover."
"Doesn't anyone else work at that place besides you?"
"Apparently not. I'm sorry, Dennis. I'm gonna have to go in early."
"That's all right." He said and I could see he was a little annoyed but doing an admirable job of keeping it to himself. "Maybe we can do something tomorrow."
"Yeah, I'll give you a call." I said and walked him to the door.
He put his coat on and turned to me. Dennis put his arms around me and leaned his head in to kiss me. He kissed me passionately for a good couple minutes and even moaned against my lips as he pulled away.
"You taste good." He said. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"I'll see you tomorrow." I said and closed the door after him.
I wiped my mouth with my sleeve and sighed. I felt like I had just kissed my brother. I don't even have a brother but if I did that's what it would have felt like to kiss him. `Wonderful' I thought as I went and got ready for work.
Since I had gone in to work early, they had let me go early and I was home by nine a.m. I fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow and refused to wake up until four the next afternoon. By that time my phone had a dozen messages, most from Sarah but a few from Dennis. None from the one person I hoped would call me.
I got out of bed and made myself some coffee and nuked some left over Chinese food for breakfast. One of the great things about working odd hours are any food can be breakfast. I sat down in front of the t.v. and ate my sesame chicken and dumplings. I hadn't gotten to take the first bite when someone knocked on my door. I spilled some of the food on my chest as I tossed it irritably on the coffee table and opened the door. It was Charlie.
"Hey." He said with a smile.
"Hey." I grinned back.
"You have lo mein noodles stuck in your chest hair." He pointed out.
"Yeah. Breakfast. Come on in." I said and went to the kitchen to grab a paper towel.
"So how have you been?"
"I've been good. You?"
"Good." He answered.
"Good." I said, lamely and stood wiping Chinese food from my body.
"Well, now that we've lied to each other why don't we tell the truth? How have you been?"
"Pretty shitty. You?"
"The same." He answered and came wrapped his arms around me. I sighed and leaned into him. The man just fit me too fucking well.
"I've missed you."
"I've missed you too."
"You got a tree."
"I love it." I smiled when he said that.
"Me too." He kissed me, lightly on the lips, no tongue and grabbed my hand to pull me to the couch.
"What have you been up to?" Has asked and I spoke of work and speaking with Sarah while trying to avoid the topic of Denis altogether. At some point his name did come up and he let that slide as we talked. He was, of course going to have to comment some time.
"So you went out with him?"
"How was it?"
"It was fine." I said, feeling horribly uncomfortable speaking with him about another man.
"Ryan, I'm your friend and I want to be your best friend and this is weird as hell, for me and for you, but we can talk about this. We should be able to share our lives totally."
"You really want to hear about me and another man?"
"If that's what you want to talk about."
"You want to hear how we had awesome sex right here on the couch?" I said and watched his face grow stiff, his smile now plastered and he looked like he wanted to jump off of the couch.
"Sure." He gritted out.
"We didn't. He kissed me. That's it." Charlie relaxed a bit.
"Did you kiss him back?"
"How was it?"
"It sucked." I said, honestly and watched his face relax into a heartfelt smile.
"I'm sorry." He said, still grinning.
"Yeah, you look it." I laughed. He chuckled.
"No, I really am. Not that the kiss sucked, or maybe I am. I don't fucking know. I'm trying to be the good guy and give you what you need but all I want to do is be a dick and make you come back to me."
"It's a real shitty situation."
"That it is." He agreed.
"I think I know a solution though."
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
"It might not work. It actually might fuck everything up but since everything's really fucked up anyway, it might not matter."
"Sort of a `fuck up REALLY big' situation?" He asked.
"I love those. Those are my favorite." He said, sounding like a little kid on Christmas.
"Then you're gonna go ape shit over this." I said as I stood up and grabbed his hand.
"Oh yeah?" He asked, with a smile the size of the grand canyon.
"Oh yeah." I answered and pulled him toward my bedroom.
His grin slipped as we entered my room. He let his hand slip from mine and stared at the bed. I sat down on the messy covers and looked up at him.
"I don't know what to do." He said.
"Well, it's been a while for me too but I think we can figure it out." He ignored my joke.
"Ryan, I don't want to fuck this up. I can't fuck this up." My heart ached at his words but my mind knew he was right. I just wanted to lose myself in the certainty that I felt every time he held me and touched me. I wanted for a moment to have everything I wanted even at the cost of losing everything I needed.
"Ryan, I will not do this to you anymore. I want you in my life so fucking bad because you're in my heart and you always will be. But I think I may have fucked up too much for you to trust me and if so then you'll never be happy with me. And if we sleep together now, you'll hate me forever. I can't let that happen."
He came and knelt down before me and took my face in his hands. Charlie pressed his lips to mine and slipped his tongue gently into my mouth.
"I love you too much for that, Ryan. I want you to be happy." He said as he looked in my eyes. "Goodbye, baby."
He got up and walked out the door leaving me with a sudden depression I couldn't shake for the hour I sat there. I finally stood, walked over to the wall and put my fist through it until it was so battered I couldn't hold it anymore. I took myself to the hospital and sat while doctors and nurses I knew professionally, cleaned the cuts, took x-rays and made a cast for it. They never said what they were thinking but the looks they gave me and each other said they knew something was wrong with my explanation of how I broke my hand. I was sent home with a note saying I wasn't to work for at least three weeks and I would have to have x-rays after that before I'd be cleared for duty. My supervisor was beyond irate when I told him.
"What the fuck do you mean you broke your hand?"
"That's what the x-rays said."
"It's fucking Christmas!! What the fuck am I supposed to do with a paramedic who can't do anything?!!"
"I really don't know."
"How did you break it?"
"The plow on my friends truck was stuck and when I was trying to fix it, it dropped onto my hand." I had actually taken some kid into the hospital for just that thing two years ago and thought it was a pretty neat story and should work.
"Fucking dumbass!! You're a medic, not a mechanic!!"
"You're telling me." I knew I was just pissing him off by my nonchalant tone, but I really couldn't be bothered with him.
"Fine. I'll take you off the schedule. Let me know when you can work again and I'll let you know if you still have a job." He said and hung up in my ear.
`Fuck him' I thought and fell back against my couch. `I'm probably going to have to find another job next year.'
My cell phone rang and I picked it up to hear Denis on the line.
"Hey sexy, what's going on?" He asked.
"Not much. Just got back from the hospital."
"Oh yeah? How was work?"
"It wasn't for work. I broke my hand."
"Jesus! How did you do that?" He asked.
"Umm... I was helping a friend plow some drive ways and the plow got stuck. I was fixing it and it dropped on my hand."
"Oh shit. Well, hey I'll be over in a little bit. I'll pick up some dinner."
"You don't have to do that. I think I'm gonna take a pain pill and head to bed."
"Nah, it's all right. I'll be a few minutes." He said and his phone started crackling.
"What? I can't hear you. Ten minutes. I'll be there in ten minutes." He said before his phone cut out completely.
"Fuck my life." I said and threw the phone across the room.
Ten minutes later, there was a knock at the door and Denis came in with bags of food. He babied me for a minute or two before going and setting up some plates filled with Indian food. I grimaced.
"I hope you like Indian food. I forgot to ask."
"I do, actually." I said, leaving out the part of what it does to my stomach.
"Are you comfortable? You look like you could use another pillow." He said and headed into my room.
"I'm o.k. Denis. Really." But he came back with another pillow so I allowed him to shove it behind my back. It was very nice of him but I truly just wished he would leave.
He stayed for three hours while we watched Christmas movies. We even found his favorite one, Mixed Nuts and though I enjoyed it I just couldn't shake the funk I was in. He cleaned up our dinner plates and even washed them before sitting back down and staring at me.
"Is something wrong?" I asked.
"You tell me." He said.
"What do you mean?"
"How are you doing?"
"I'm fine for someone who has a broken hand." I laughed.
"Yeah, about that. `Plowing accident'?" He asked, as if he didn't believe me.
"So the large holes encrusted with blood in your bedroom wall have nothing to do with it?"
"Hanging a picture?" I asked, lamely.
"No. Want to talk about it?"
"It's a guy, isn't it?"
"You're pretty torn up about him."
"It's not me."
"That's cool." He said, with a sigh.
"Well, it sucks that you're going through this. I assume it means that our timing continues to be shit. But if we can't be together then we can still be friends and if you're hurting this bad I think you could use one."
"That would be a pretty lousy deal for you."
"Well, maybe one day I'll need a friend and you can be there for me."
"Sure, why not."
"All right." I said and told him the whole thing. Another three hours later, I stopped talking and felt drained like I had just lived it all again in that little space of time.
"So, what are you going to do?"
"What can I do?" I laughed, sardonically. "I either be with Charlie and risk my heart again or be with someone else and risk never having what I want. And with how I feel about Charlie, I'd say that's a horrible thing to do to someone."
"That's a hell of choice to have to make."
"What?" I asked, surprised. Most people I had spoken to of this had been more than eager to give their opinions.
"You know what you have to choose between. It's up to you now."
"That's not much help."
"Where do you see your life in five years with Charlie?"
I couldn't answer.
"Where do you see your life in five years without him?"
I still couldn't answer but a pain flooded my chest. He must have seen it cause he smiled and grabbed his coat.
"You'll make the right decision, which ever one you do make. If you ever want to talk, give me a call. It'll save your walls from being battered to hell, if nothing else." He leaned over and kissed my lips chastely. I felt a pang of regret that this man couldn't be the one I got hung up on. "Night sexy."
"Night Denis." He had almost closed the door when I called to him.
"I'm sorry." I said, honestly.
"No, Denis. I'm sorry I couldn't give us a chance."
He smiled and closed the door.
I left early the next morning to drive up to Sarah's cabin in the Berkshires and was awarded the sight of my best friend running through the snow in her p.j.'s, bathrobe and wellingtons. She was screaming like a lunatic and waving her arms as I parked the car.
"I can't believe you made it!! This was all a surprise from the beginning, wasn't it?! A Christmas surprise!! You fake having to work and then surprise me up here!!"
"Yes Sarah, cause everyone's life revolves around you." I answered and started getting out of the car.
"Well, if it doesn't, it should." She saw my hand. "What the fuck did you do to yourself?!!"
"I had an accident with a snow plow. I was helping-."
"Fuck that shit! What really happened?" I told her. "That motherfucker!! And you wanted to go back to that? See how he's playing with your head?"
"Sarah, he's not playing with my head. He left so that he wouldn't play with my head."
"How is that not playing with your head?!!!"
"Fine! Maybe it is! But it's a damned if you do and damned if you don't kind of thing!!"
"Um, you guys want to come in and argue or should I bring the coffee out here?" Drew asked as he grabbed my luggage.
"We're coming in. And Drew, I can grab that." I said, feeling bad that he was carrying luggage I could still carry.
"My wife's been bitching at me for the better part of a week cause you're not here. I would have carried you AND your luggage all the way from New York." He said, and continued on to the house.
"Have you really been that bitchy?" I asked.
"No, just a little mopey. He just knows how happy I am that you're here."
"Well, I'm happy that I'm here too. So let's get the fuck inside. It's freezing out."
We spent the day doing Christmassy things; eating Holiday food, listening to carols and the whole nine. I was sick of it by five o'clock. I wanted to go somewhere that had never heard of Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or even winter. Some atheistic island in the West Indies would be nice, but I smiled and played along like I knew I was supposed to. At ten o'clock, the kids were so tuckered out they headed to bed and Drew, Sarah and I sprawled on the couch. I reiterated my feelings toward the holidays.
"Wait till you have kids." Drew said.
"Never gonna happen." I responded.
"Stop. You'll be a great father." Sarah added.
"Maybe, but I still won't want to do Christmas."
"It's obligatory." Drew said.
"Great." I sighed.
"So how were the last ten days without my wife?" Drew asked and I actually thought about lying.
"My life went to hell very quickly." I responded honestly.
"So I heard." He smiled. "Gonna give him another chance?"
"I don't know."
"Apparently. You're here instead of down in Jersey with him."
"Drew, I don't think Ryan wants to talk of this right now." Sarah said, with an edge to her voice like he was going to say something she didn't want me to hear.
"I didn't say anything, babe. I was just thinking there's no where that I'd rather be than with someone I loved on Christmas." Drew smirked at his wife innocently, who glared at him with daggers in her eyes.
"I think I'll make us some hot chocolate." She said and grabbed Drew's hand. "Care to help me, sweetie?"
"I don't have a choice, do I?"
"Not since you said `I do'." Sarah led the way into the kitchen where I was sure she'd give him shit for encouraging me to think of Charlie.
I watched them go and thought of how cute they looked together for a straight couple. I chuckled at my thoughts and felt them shift to what Drew had said. I decided he was right. There was no place I'd rather be than with the people I loved on Christmas. It took me another two hours to admit that Charlie was the person I wanted to be with on Christmas.
I left the Berkshires in the morning despite Sarah's wrath and made my way to New Jersey. A snow storm had started once I had hit my home town and I thought of stopping but continued on through. Taking it slow, I reached the city where Charlie lived and suddenly realized that I had no idea where he lived. I tried looking up his company but couldn't tell his address from that. I tried calling his old friend Brad who promptly told me to go fuck myself. Finally, I was just about to give in and call Charlie's cell phone when mine rang.
"Ryan? It's me. Charlie."
"Where are you?"
"I'm at your house."
"I'm at your house. Where are you?" He asked.
"I'm in New Jersey."
"What are you doing in New Jersey?"
"I came to see you."
"Seriously?" He asked and my heart skipped at the joy and hope in his voice.
"Yeah. I got here and realized I didn't know where you lived."
He talked me all the way to his house and told me where to find the spare key. I opened his door and stepped into a warm, inviting home.
"Are you inside?" He asked.
"Yeah. It smells great in here."
"I did a little baking. I had nothing else to do, so I figured I'd bake."
"It kept my mind busy."
"Yeah, I had a little problem with that myself."
"Yeah. I kinda put my hand through a wall after you left that day."
"Oh Jesus! You broke your hand?"
"Yeah. We're just one dysfunctional mess, aren't we?" I asked and he laughed.
"I guess we are a bit. But I think we can make it work."
"I think we're going to have to try."
"Oh babe, I wish I was there right now."
"Where are you?" I asked.
"I'm on the thruway. It'll take me about an hour to get there."
"There's no way it'll take you an hour to get here unless you're speeding!"
"No, I'm going the speed limit."
"I'm going close to the speed limit."
"I've got 4 wheel drive."
"All right, all right. I'm slowing down." He said and I could hear the pitch of his tires lower. "It'll take me about an hour and a half."
"Just get here safe."
"I will, baby. I'm not going to risk anything ever again." He sighed. "I'm only saying this now cause it's been so hard to say when we're face to face. I mean, I'll say it again when I get there but I just want this one time...."
"I'm sorry." He whispered and I clenched the phone tighter in my hand. "I'm so sorry I let you down before. I'm so sorry of everything I said and everything I did. I'm so fucking sorry I cheated on you."
"Ah Jesus, Charlie." I said with tears in my eyes. I was actually thankful he had chosen to say this when we weren't face to face. "I forgive you."
"I guess love doesn't really mean `never having to say you're sorry'."
"That's some bullshit some moron wrote under a cartoon. I think love is being able to say you're sorry and accept it when the person you love says it to you."